You might be forgiven for thinking that someone who wrote and sang the hits for one of the biggest bands in the world in the 80s and 90s would more likely be found on a Florida beach rather than huddled in a dark recording studio or traveling from gig to gig, taking his solo show on the road. But that is the life for Brian Howe, who for the better part of a decade fronted one of the Great British musical exports, the legendary Bad Company.
During his tenure with the band, Howe, along with producer Terry Thomas, co-wrote almost a dozen Top 40 Billboard Album Rock hits, including the Number One singles ‘Holy Water’ and ‘If You Needed Somebody’, a poignant, plaintiff ballad that still tugs at the heart of those who spent their High School years watching MTV when the channel actually played music videos.
After a decade of touring worldwide, fronting an iconic rock band and recording three acclaimed solo projects, Howe is forging yet another path for himself the old fashioned-way: discipline and hard work.
Working once again with producer Brooks Paschal, Howe is continuing to explore a sound he essentially created when he was with Bad Company, the lynchpin being his unmistakable, slightly raspy vocal that is one of the most underrated yet respected voices in rock music.
Howe met Paschal when he was searching for a studio to record a new album and he overheard a project that the young producer/writer was helming. Impressed with what he heard, he and Brooks sat down and, in just a few short hours, had written a couple of songs. “That was the moment I realized we had a real chemistry, that we could have a great working relationship,” Howe said later of this first encounter. That initial meeting led to what became the critically acclaimed ‘Circus Bar’ album, the name being an homage to one of Howe’s favorite watering holes in Guatemala, a country with which he has a certain affinity. (When he is not on the road or recording, he spends as much time as he can in this Central American Republic where he is also on the board of a dog rescue foundation called Ayuda).
Currently in a Florida studio working on his fourth solo project, Howe has his musical vision set on a big horizon, different from anything he’s done before. The album release will coincide with solo acoustic shows that will celebrate a deep well of his influences — ranging from Cat Stevens to The Beatles to renowned Scottish songsmiths Gallagher and Lyle — as well as new originals and gems from his days fronting his previous partnership with Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke, Bad Company.
“I’m hoping to tour small theaters where I can actually talk to the audience,” Howe said. “That really intrigues me. If they’ve taken time out of their day to come and see me, I want to treat them as friends, not just people in the audience.”
Howe exploded onto the scene when he partnered with multi-platinum artist Ted Nugent for the 1983 album, Penetrator. The success of that album propelled Howe into the spotlight, and it wasn’t long before Bad Company came calling. The band had enjoyed massive popular success in the 70s with hits like “Feel Like Making Love” and “Rock and Roll Fantasy,” but with the departure of founder Paul Rodgers and falling record sales, the group’s business was in a downward spiral and was in desperate need of a strong “kick start.” “Joining Bad Company was a challenge and I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work” said Howe.
In 1986, on his first U.S. tour with Bad Company, they were opening for Deep Purple when, sadly, (Deep Purple guitarist) Ritchie Blackmore broke a finger,” Howe said. “That left us in America with no gigs. I’m not joking, we were playing small bars and night clubs. I knew that if something didn’t happen this was going to fail…we needed a hit record.
Howe approached management with his concerns for the band’s future, and they introduced him to producer Terry Thomas with the idea that they should write three songs for the band’s next album. The duo finished three new songs in three days. When none of his bandmates contributed any songs of their own, he and Thomas finished writing the majority of their 1988 album, Dangerous Age, a project that yielded the hit singles “No Smoke Without a Fire”, “One Night “, and “Shake It Up”. All three songs landed in the Billboard Top 10 Album Rock Tracks chart. Buoyed by that success, Howe and Thomas set to work on the now iconic 1990 platinum album, Holy Water. The album yielded the singles “If You Needed Somebody,” “Walk Through Fire” and the title track, which hit Number 1 for two weeks on the AOR charts. The success continued with the Gold certified Here Comes Trouble, producing the hit “How About That”.
Having stretched his creative wings in the studio, Howe focused on recapturing the band’s live performance reputation and subsequently led them to becoming one of the top 5 grossing acts of 1991. During Howe’s tenure with the band (1986 — 1994), Bad Company sold more than 19 million records worldwide.
Howe’s success leading the band did not come without problems, though. Despite the band’s resurgence with Holy Water, Howe’s bandmates seemed more interested in sticking to their past accolades rather than continue creating new music.
“At some point, you want to move on artistically,” Howe said. “If you’re not creating something new, then what’s the point? It gets very difficult to love music anymore when what you’re doing is resting on your past hits.”
The upside for Howe, though, was that it pressed him to broaden his own artistry. “All I’d ever wanted to do was to sing and write songs,” he said, “But when I joined we were really a sinking ship. I knew what it would take to turn the band around, and that was hard work. For whatever reason, the other guys were not bringing any new songs to the table, so I was forced to take over as the songwriter. I never expected that job, but to survive I knew that we had to have new material.”
“Still, it was an incredible decade for me,” he adds. “In terms of becoming a better writer and performer, it was amazing. I knew what it took to turn Bad Company around. I had a fixed idea of what needed to be done. Mick and Simon were in a different place to me, they had already enjoyed hugely successful careers and I was the new kid on the block, perhaps I wanted it a little more, so selling a ton of records gave me a great deal of confidence for the music I’m creating now. Even though it was an acrimonious split, the whole experience made me a lot of money and allowed me the freedom to explore my musical interests.”
‘Hot Tin Roof’ is the new single, the first track to be released from sessions that have been spread over the past three years and recorded in a variety of locations. It is an up tempo, hard rocking love song that is resonating both with his core base and new fans. With the new material comes new opportunity, and this Fall, Howe will embark on his first European shows since his last world tour with Bad Company in 1993. He has found a new sense of purpose with a dynamic live band that includes Pete Mendillo on drums, Chris Turnbow on guitar, Abe White on bass and the newest addition, guitarist Paul Warren, who for more than a dozen years traveled the world with Rod Stewart. In an interesting twist, when Paul was playing with Richard Marx in the 80s, he recalls Richard and he returning to the bus after every show and putting on ‘Holy Water’. Today he is enjoying playing those songs on stage with Howe… and Howe is enjoying sharing that stage with a wealth of talent.
Four decades on, Brian Howe still has many things he wants to achieve musically, and ‘Hot Tin Roof’ is the first salvo of new music that he hopes will be well received by his audience worldwide.